Hiking Half Dome was my biggest goal for 2016, and so I was very happy when we were granted a permit!
Prior to Half Dome, the most I’ve hiked was only about 8 miles, and this was when I hiked Mt. Baldy in the Angeles National Forest. I wanted to challenge myself by doing Half Dome, so I invited my husband and two other friends to do it with me. Fortunately, they were all up for the challenge! So we applied for the permits together, and secured our canvas tents in Half Dome Village right away, even before the lottery results came out (our planned visit fell on a holiday weekend, so it was best to secure a site ASAP).
The day of our hike, we woke up at around 4am to get ready, and by exactly 5am we started making our way to the trail head located in Happy Isles (aka shuttle stop #16). We planned on going up through the Mist Trail, and then heading back down through the John Muir Trail, which is 16.5 miles total.
The whole hike took us through a lot of different viewpoints and noteworthy spots, which made the hike so much more exciting. If you ever plan on hiking Half Dome yourself, here are the notable checkpoints you’ll encounter along the trail. The mile marker is based off of the Happy Isles trail head.
VERNAL FALLS BRIDGE (0.8 miles)
This bridge crosses through the Merced River, and gives you a sneak peak of Vernal Falls. This is also where you’ll get to refill your water bladder/bottles for the last time. Bathrooms also provided.
MIST TRAIL TO THE TOP OF VERNAL FALLS (1.5 miles)
Expect to hike through uneven rocky stairs at this location. If you love doing the stair-master at the gym, then this part of the trail will be very easy for you. Lol. This is also where you’ll get to see the 317-foot Vernal Falls.
Be careful while making your way up (or down), because the wet rocks tend to be really slippery!
Once you reach the top of Vernal Falls, you will be rewarded with a gorgeous view of the valley floor.
EMERALD POOLS (1.6 miles)
We passed by beautiful calm waters, and it was so tempting to take a dip! But swimming here is not allowed because of the currents. You will also find vault toilets along this section of the trail.
NEVADA FALLS (3.4 miles)
As you continue to make your way up the trail, through the woods, and some rocky switchbacks, you will eventually come across the 595-foot high Nevada Falls.
The top of Nevada Falls is where you’ll find the last bathroom stop, so be sure to stop here before continuing the hike to Half Dome.
This part of the trail was so nice because it was relatively flat, and you’ll be able to walk right next to the Merced River. I appreciated the scenery here because it was so calm. Be sure to enjoy this part, because not too far ahead, the trail starts to become challenging again.
SUB DOME (7.8 miles)
After about 4 more miles of hiking, you will finally reach the Sub Dome, which is the first dome you will encounter before reaching the part with the cables. This part of the hike made my knees shake a lot, because of the steep (and difficult) switchbacks you’ll have to hike through. Be careful of loose rocks along the trail!
I was feeling really tired after reaching the top of the subdome, but once I saw the cables, I was pumped! I was so excited to finish the last stretch of the hike and get to the apex of Half Dome.
The rock was so slick, and what I thought was going to be an easy ascent for me (given my background in pole dancing, where I train my upper body a lot), turned out to be really challenging! The biggest challenge was having to go through the people already making their way down, because we had to stay off to one side to let them pass. The planks were definitely very helpful in letting us rest all throughout the ascent.
TOP OF HALF DOME (8.2 miles)
After 8.5 hours of hiking, we finally reached the top! The views were spec-tac-u-lar. No words can explain the euphoria I felt once we were at the top. It was such a big achievement for me, and to be rewarded with 360 views of Yosemite National Park was the best part of it all!
I have dreamed about that moment for months, and it was so surreal to be standing on top of Half Dome that day. Wish we could’ve stayed longer, but we still had another 8+ more miles to hike before reaching the valley floor, so at around 2pm we started making our way down.
JOHN MUIR TRAIL
Upon reaching the Nevada Falls checkpoint again, we took the John Muir Trail instead of the Mist Trail, going down. It was an additional 1.5 miles, but it was a lot less steep and less slippery. Plus! It’s kinda cool to say that I was able to hike a small section of the John Muir Trail (*wink*)!
If you have a water filtration device, this is the best place to get “river water” refills. My husband took his Grayl water filtration bottle, which was a purifier and filtration in one, and it was our first time testing it out. To my surprise, the water tasted great! I was so glad he had that, because I already finished up all the water that I brought with me, and we had a long way to go before reaching the water refilling station at the Vernal Falls Bridge.
The best part of taking the John Muir Trail going down was the view of Nevada Falls next to Liberty Cap. It looked amazing! This is actually one of my favorite views of the whole trip.
We were finally able to reach the valley floor at around 8pm, and were completely exhausted and hungry. We headed back to Half Dome Village, showered, rewarded ourselves with good food, and went straight to bed.
We took longer than expected to finish the hike, because we took a lot of breaks in between! It’s a good thing the sun didn’t start setting until around 7:30pm.
NEED TO KNOW
Distance: 14.2-16.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet
Permits/Fees: They only allow 300 hikers to go up the cables in Half Dome, and they pick using an online lottery system. Note that the cables are usually down during the winter months, so no one is permitted to climb the top during that time. Fees are $4.50 for the application, and $8/person for the permit.
Note: If you do not get a permit, you are still allowed to hike up until the base of Sub Dome. There are rangers who check in this area for permits, and you will be asked to turn around if you do not have one.
Important Things to Bring: For this hike, I recommend that you pack light and bring at least 4L of water. Water filters & purifiers are advisable, these turned out to be really helpful for us. Gloves are a must, for use on the cables. Just be sure to take it down with you. A lot of people left their gloves up where the cables were, and it was a sight for sore eyes 🙁
Even if I was very tired that night after our hike, I couldn’t sleep at all because I was just reliving the whole experience in my head. It was sorta hard to believe that we just conquered Half Dome. We survived! I was so proud of all of us, especially myself!
Have you ever hiked Half Dome before? If so, will you ever do it again?
If you’ve always wondered how this place looks like during the winter, you can check out my post about our visit to Yosemite National Park during Thanksgiving.